You know that bookish kid portrayed in movies who stays up into the wee hours sneaking a few more precious moments of reading under the blanket with a flash light? Yea, that was me. I devoured the pages with a voracity for the worlds I was exposed to. The characters became my friends (and sometimes my enemies). I wasn’t satisfied until the last word on the last page was read. And then, curiously, I was often both relieved and sad. If you are an avid reader, this last sentence needs no explanation.
This early love of reading led naturally to writing. As a child I wrote poetry to express my feelings or as gifts for family members. In high school I was editor of the school paper and wrote for a Friday-edition teen section of The Orlando Sentinel. I entered undergraduate school as a declared English major, emphasizing my studies on professional writing (assuming it was more marketable than fiction). The graduate degree that followed focused on editing and publishing.
Now, more than a decade into an unexpected career in communications, I am finally coming full circle to try my hand at fiction. During the process of writing Good Graces, I have often thought of several books that made a particular impact on me for various reasons. Below are just five of the many (how to choose?!).
- Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White) – A beloved children’s classic, this is book that represents “firsts” for me. It is the first book that made me cry. White makes the characters come alive. I grieved along with Wilbur at the loss of sweet but brave Charlotte. In my writing, I strive to make my protagonists relate-able, redeeming, and someone with whom my readers would want to be friends with.
- Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) – Another renowned children’s classic novel, this book taught me about the importance of not only telling your reader of a place, but taking them there with you. To this day, I remember running through the meadows of Prince Edward Island, past the birch trees and wooden fences as if they were my own memories and not Anne’s alone. If anything, I have to be careful to not be overly descriptive in my own writing.
- Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston) – This 1930’s novel about the challenges and transformation of African-American girl Janie Crawford in central Florida opened my eyes to a world so unlike my own that I came away changed. Stories that allow shared experience between character and reader are invaluable when bridging different times, cultures, or perspectives. I desperately hope my writing sheds light on something the reader doesn’t otherwise have access to: hope, redemption, forgiveness, etc.
- Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) – A combination of all of the above, this 19th century novel was probably one of the first I couldn’t put down. Austen gives me a memorable example of creating tension for the reader. She builds expectation and desire so slowly that by the time the characters (and readers alike) realize what they feel, it’s like holding your breath in an unknown depth of water – unsure of when the surface will break. And when it does, oh the satisfaction. I can only dream my readers feel the same sense of satisfaction.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert Pirsig) – I can honestly say this is a title I would likely have never picked up on my own accord. It was assigned summer reading before AP Literature in high school. I was enthralled with its often challenging syntax, more often challenging context (keeping it all straight)….and yet amazed at its simple truths. At the novel’s end, its commentary on fundamentals like love and fear are clear and resonating. As a writer, this book reminds me to not be afraid to challenge your reader. Write what you know, even if many potential readers do not. Show them. They’ll get it and, if well-written, will stick with you to the end.
Seriously, so hard to choose…and now I want to go back and reread each book! Maybe some of these titles have resonated with you. Chances are, we each have a unique list. I hope you’ll share yours in a comment below.